Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown has made a plea for more resources to be given to the office she has held since November 2015.
“I have a communications adviser, she is a volunteer given to me by a foreign country [for six months]. That post was not in the establishment when the office was established, and those are some of the resources that we are fighting to get. In the last by-elections (Portland Eastern, in April), there was a complaint that there was so much negative on social media and [that] I have the resources to deal with that. I do not have the resources to deal with that,” she said at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last Thursday.
She said that the Organisation of American States observed the 2016 general elections and described the office as a good initiative that could be modelled elsewhere.
“It’s a tiny staff. The ombudsman is supported by two administrative staff and three support staff. There is space to hire an attorney; the investigator is also in the establishment. I will be hiring an attorney as soon as possible,” she said.
Parchment Brown believes that it is also her role to improve public education about the office and to reduce the perception that it is only active during elections.
“In the budget, I will be putting in a request for a communications capability within the office and funding for a number of events in the public space, funding for paid advertising in the media, and I’ll also be going to the media for PSAs (public service announcements). We want to be able to develop professional material that’s out there so people understand that it’s a 24/7 matter to build a decent country,” the ombudsman explained.
Former Director of Elections Orette Fisher asserted that with political parties now registered under the Political Party Registration Act 2014, the ombudsman’s office needs to be expanded.
“I am of the view that the office does not have jurisdiction over internal election. I think that the office of the ombudsman could be strengthened in that regard to provide jurisdiction because I don’t think the parties should be held to any lesser standard, than what obtains for a national election. I think they should be held to the same standard and therefore, any suggestions of vote-buying or treating should be open to some form of investigation for the party to remain registered, he said.”
University of the West Indies student David Salmon, the youngest of the panellists at the forum, suggested that the political code of conduct carry greater penalties.
Currently, offences with liability on conviction for breaches of the code in the parish court is a modest $50,000 or six months imprisonment, or both.
“The office should be expanded to include an investigative branch that can eventually make recommendations to the DPP director of public prosecutions) for prosecution. That is where we need to go – we need to empower the office so that it can be effective in its mandate,” Salmon asserted.
Fisher sided with Salmon: “The mechanism to investigate some of these things is just not there, and so I think it would be an opportunity for strengthening the electoral process.”